HAYWARD – Tournament host and No. 1 seed Cal State East Bay opened the game with a 13-2 sprint and closed it with a 13-5 run. For the other 30 minutes of play, Azusa Pacific out-scored the Pioneers, 67-56, but that wasn’t enough as Cal State East Bay held on to beat APU, 82-74, in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball West Regional on March 12.
With the game tied at 69-69 and four minutes left to play, CSU East Bay seemingly found an extra gear as it punched the pedal to the medal for the finish line. The Cougars, perhaps physically and emotionally gassed from the previous night’s overtime victory over Cal State San Marcos, could not answer the Pioneers’ push and had to settle for the season-ending loss.
“We weren’t staying sharp when we needed to,” said Cougar sophomore guard Paige Uyehara, who finished with a team-high 18 points. “It came down to us having mental lapses, and East Bay capitalized on those opportunities.”
The Pioneers led 13-2 lead just four minutes into the game, but the play of sophomore reserve forward Kelly Heimburger rallied the Cougars to take a 16-15 lead when she scored all eight of her points on the night with a pair of three-pointers and a 13-foot jumper in the key.
Using Uyehara on several isolation plays, the Cougars moved out to a 27-20 lead early in the second quarter, but the Pioneers rallied to within one at 35-34 at halftime.
As a possible sign of the Cougars wearing down, the Pioneers pulled away early in the fourth quarter, opening up a 10-point lead at 67-57 with just under seven minutes left in the game.
With one last gasp, however, Azusa Pacific answered with its own 12-2 run. Kayla Shaw, the Cougars’ leading scorer on the season, scored seven on her 15 points during the run, which was capped by Alex Louden’s two free throws that tied the game at 69-69 with 4:23 remaining.
Given the Cougars’ storied history of late-game dramatics in the NCAA Tournament, including a day earlier when Uyehara nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime, it seemed this game was shaping up as another APU dramatic win.
East Bay would have none of it, closing the game on a 13-5 run over the final minutes, when APU committed two of their 19 turnovers and missed three free throws.
Azusa Pacific closed the year at 23-4, the fewest losses since 1977 when they went 15-1.
With the win, Cal State East Bay advanced to the regional title game, where they lost to Dani Iwami and Western Washington. WWU was set to take on Valdosta State on Monday in the Elite Eight
— Courtesy Azusa Pacific Athletics